“If you had to sum up most of OCD in two words, they would be “pathological doubt.” OCD can cast doubt on almost any aspect of a person’s life and can force them to question almost anything they are, or anything they do. OCD is also extremely insidious and can infiltrate anything that matters to you.” —Fred Penzel, Ph.D. http://beyondocd.org/expert-perspectives/articles/let-he-who-is-without-sin-ocd-and-religion
I wrote in a previous post about how OCD and PTSD affect religious faith and trust, and wanted to explore the topic further.
Because all religions are centered on faith in things that can’t be completely known in this life, how does someone with pathological doubt embrace or experience peace in a religious faith?
Not only can obsessive-compulsive disorder morph into scrupulosity (anxiety-driven religious compulsions like repetitive praying and excessive studying) and disrupt the peace that most receive from their religion, it can also cause obsessive doubts about one’s religious faith.
In a previous post I wrote about some of the anxieties, doubts, and worries regarding religion that I experience. Here is an excerpt from that post:
“I find myself constantly worrying that if I trust the writers of the scriptures or my religious leaders, that I might be deceived and not live the true way that God wants. Then, when I die, I’ll be told I lived a lie my whole life. I constantly worry that Jesus was just a hoax, a fake, and to believe in Him is to be deceived. People say to trust in Jesus, but I worry that to do so is akin to trusting in a blanket or teddy bear—it can’t actually help you except as a placebo. But then I also worry that He might be real and I’m being blasphemous to have the other worry, and that that will condemn me to hell. I worry that people are just deluding themselves when they think they “feel the Spirit”, and I worry about feeling something and mistakenly attributing it to the Holy Ghost too.”
These doubts and worries cause me frequent stress and make living my religion excruciatingly painful at times. I found a book at the local library called “The Doubting Disease” by Joseph W. Ciarrocchi. In it, he explained that some OCD sufferers:
“feel uncertain about religious experiences and can’t find reassurance through the normal means available.”
He went on to write that:
“the sufferer has intense anxiety about thoughts that the average person can dismiss or resolve but the OCD person can’t cause it keeps returning with the same anxiety level.”
Later he explained:
“It is difficult to resolve a doubt logically when you constantly FEEL doubtful. “
He also shared a quote from Judith Rapoport:
“OCD is people losing their ability to know if they know something”.
I am a deeply religious person, but, as you read above in my excerpt from a previous post, I am also tortured by doubts about my faith. This book and these quotes helped me see that it truly is likely that my brain disorder is causing this torment, rather than just normal existential or religious questioning. I think the key to realizing this is the level of anxiety and the obsessive nature of the doubts and fears. Like my favorite psychologist used to tell me “If its anxiety, its OCD”.
Knowing that it is probably my OCD definitely brings some comfort and lessens the anxiety in some degree, but I don’t know if I will ever find a way to quiet all these doubts or if I will struggle with them the duration of my life. But I like to believe that God can heal this aspect of my OCD so that I can experience more peace in this life. Like the father in Mark chapter 9 in the Bible, my prayer will continue to be “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
I hope this post can help anyone else with OCD who struggles with religious doubts in a similar way.
If you are interested in Joseph W. Ciarrocchi’s book, here is the link to one way to purchase it: http://www.amazon.com/The-Doubting-Disease-Scrupulosity-Compulsions/dp/0809135531